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The importance of researching skincare ingredients.  Photo by Simon Strangaard.

The importance of researching skincare ingredients. Photo by Simon Strangaard.

Ever looked at a skincare label and been confused by the chemical names?

Ever researched them?

A fantastic article by the Ecologist analyses the label of Carex to deconstruct the ingredients in layman’s terms.

Dissecting the chemical names and providing matter of fact commentary of the adverse effects may lead some of you to reconsider the use of this category of products in your home.

The importance of reading labels

It is now more common for people to buy healthy and organic food, however the next step is to make sure your soaps, cleansers,  toners, moisturisers and cosmetics are of the same high quality as the food you eat and also considered by you as an investment in your health.

Since everything you put on your skin is absorbed into your body, if you’re not prepared to eat what you put in your skin, then the question arises “should you be putting on on your skin?”.

Extreme as this may be, it all ends up in your bloodstream.  How this affects your body is then up to the mix of substances, synthetic and natural.

There is a huge body of evidence to show that these cocktails are affecting all the other systems in our body, including our respiratory system and our brain.

How do I understand what the ingredients are?

Decoding the label is a venture into a  labyrinth of foreign sounding chemical names difficult to decipher and dizzying in their pronunciation.

Two organisations have set up shop to ensure you have the resources to help you understand what they are and how safe they are for you:

Skin Deep is a safety guide to cosmetics and personal care products brought to you by researchers at the EWG – Environmental Working Group.  They have an amazing database of aggregated research that allows you to determine the risk of using an ingredient.

Campaign for Safe Cosmetics is a coalition effort launched in 2004 to protect the health of consumers and workers by securing the corporate, regulatory and legislative reforms necessary to eliminate dangerous chemicals from cosmetics and personal care products.  This is a great way to get involved in a consumer revolution and help to ensure higher levels of transparency and responsibility from the industry.

Example: Carex ingredients

We have extracted the ingredient analysis of Carex from the article here, but if you have a look, you’ll recognise some of the ingredients on the labels on your shower gels, moisturisers and cosmetics, too:

Aqua, sodium laureth sulfate, lauramidopropyl betaine, glycerine, laureth-4, parfum, sodium chloride, sodium lactate, cocamidopropyl PG-dimonium chloride phosphate, polyquaternium-39, citric acid, hexylene glycol, sodium citrate, sodium benzoate, tetrasodium EDTA, methyldibromo glutaronitrile, phenoxyethanol, methylparaben, propylparaben, sodium benzotriazolyl butylphenol sulfate, buteth-3, tributyl citrate, citronellol, butylphenyl methylpropional, linalool, alpha isomethyl ionone, hexyl cinnamal, limonene, CI 42051.

Assessing the safety of skincare ingredients

Ingredient – Sodium Laureth Sulphate
Purpose - Detergent
Adverse effects – Skin dryness, eye irritation, penetration enhancer. Laureth compounds can be contaminated with 1,4 dioxane, a carcinogen linked to breast cancer.

IngredientLauramidopropyl Betaine
Purpose – Detergent, foambooster, thickener
Adverse effects – Never been assessed for safety. Though milder than many other detergents it can cause skin and eye irritation; penetration enhancer.

IngredientParfum
Purpose – Fragrance compound
Adverse effects – Allergenic; can trigger asthmatic reactions; skin irritant; central nervous system disruption (eg headache, mood swings, depression, forgetfulness); common fragrance chemicals like artificial musks and phthalates are hormone-disrupting.

IngredientCocamidopropyl PG-Dimonium Chloride Phosphate
Purpose – Surfactant, antimicrobial
Adverse effects – Often used in surgical scrubs, it can cause contact dermatitis, sensitisation

Ingredient - Cocamidopropyl PG-Dimoniu Chloride Phosphate
Purpose – Surfactant, antimicrobial
Adverse effects – Often used in surgical scrubs, it can cause contact dermatitis, sensitisation

IngredientHexylene glycol
Purpose – Solvent, moisturising agent
Adverse effects – Can be mildly irritating to eyes, nose, throat and skin. Neurotoxin. Often found in paints, lacquers, varnishes and household cleaners

IngredientSodium benzoate
Purpose – Antimicrobial
Adverse effects – Skin and respiratory irritant.

IngredientTetrasodium EDTA
Purpose – Preservative
Adverse effects – Skin and eye irritation, contact dermatitis; penetration enhancer. Environmentally persistent, binding with heavy metals in lakes and streams aiding their re-entry into the food chain.

Ingredient -Methyldibromo glutaronitrile
Purpose – Antibacterial agent
Adverse effects – Formaldehyde-releasing preservative/antibacterial found in many cosmetics, shampoos, creams, and even some forms of toilet paper. Causes skin rashes and allergic reactions; medical literature shows that sensitivity to this chemical has increased over the years.

IngredientPhenoxyethanol
Purpose – Antibacterial agent and solvent
Adverse effects – Skin irritation, contact dermatitis.

IngredientPhenoxyethanol
Purpose – Antibacterial agent and solvent
Adverse effects – Skin irritation, contact dermatitis.

Ingredient - Methylparaben, Propylparaben
Purpose – Preservatives
Adverse effects – Skin irritation, contact dermatitis, contact allergies; estrogen mimics. Environmental estrogen mimics have been linked to breast cancer.

IngredientButylphenyl methylpropional
Purpose – Synthetic fragrance
Adverse effects – Skin irritant, sensitiser. In animals, skin applications at high concentrations caused sperm damage and central nervous system effects such as drowsiness and breathing diffi culties.

IngredientAlpha-isomethyl ionone
Purpose – Synthetic fragrance
Adverse effects – Skin sensitisation; central nervous system disruption.

IngredientCI 42051
Purpose – Synthetic colour
Adverse effects – A coal-tar dye also known as Patent blue 5. Allergic reactions include redness of skin, itching and urticaria.

You can read the full article Behind the Label: Antibacterial Handwash on The Ecologist.

Do the research!

Their conclusion is that going back to the basics may offer the best solution, considering that some ingredients in these products may do more harm than good.

We hope this post inspires you to read the label and to do some research when you are not sure. :)